Are the Astros a legit landing spot if Clayton Kershaw opts out?

Only a few players hold the power to change the landscape of baseball, and this offseason has the potential to do it.

While the Red Sox bask in the glory of another World Series title, the rest of baseball will try their hardest to dethrone Boston. Well, some teams will try their hardest as multiple rebuilds are going on. For the first time in a while, though, there are a few franchise-altering free agents on the market. Bryce Harper is one that could change the fortunes of a club while Manny Machado is another. Depending on how he wants to proceed with the Dodgers and his professional career, Clayton Kershaw is another name that would send shockwaves around the sport if he enters the fray.

For those that aren’t familiar, Kershaw has the option to opt out of the remaining two years, $65 million left on his current contract with Los Angeles. However, he only has until midnight eastern time Thursday morning to decide and the Dodgers’ season just ended on Sunday. A quick turnaround, right?

Even if he does opt out, I am assuming Kershaw will stay put with the only franchise he has pitched for during his illustrious career. It is quite possible that he and the Dodgers agree on a new contract almost immediately following an opt out that keeps him in Los Angeles for the rest of his professional career. But you never know how a player wants to proceed with their future. Maybe he feels it is time for a change or a new challenge. While there is likely a sense of unfinished business with the Dodgers, he could also have a desire for a fresh start somewhere else. Again, these are all assumptions on my part. For what its worth, Kershaw didn’t seem sure in which direction he will go Sunday following Los Angeles’ loss to Boston in the World Series.

The Dodgers are obviously seen as the favorite to employ Kershaw on Opening Day in 2019. But say if Kershaw decides to leave? Where could he go? Two places that have caught the public’s eye since the World Series ended were the Astros and Rangers. Per OddsShark, both Houston and Texas (+375) have the best odds of any team not named the Dodgers to land Kershaw. As you may already know, Kershaw is originally from Dallas, Texas, so it quite obvious why the OddsShark views the two in-state teams as a possible option. Whether it is realistic at all, which I doubt, the possibility is still intriguing.

Say in the event that Kershaw does opt out and decides to leave the Dodgers, do the Astros and Rangers actually have a need for him? Well, for one, its Kershaw, so any team should make room for him. A pitcher with a 2.73 ERA and 3.19 FIP in 2018 would be a boost to either club, especially a contender like Houston. No offense to Texas, but they don’t need to tie up a lot of salary to an already 30-year old pitcher during a rebuild.

However, this begs another question: Should the Astros be interested in Kershaw if he is available in the offseason? On one hand, yes, Houston should be interested. Any contending club in their right state of mind should be interested in one of the best starting pitchers of a generation. On the other hand, any team that pursues Kershaw, including the Dodgers, has to be weary of peripherals. For example, the southpaw’s declining velocity.

  • 2015: 89.0 MPH
  • 2016: 88.7 MPH
  • 2017: 88.0 MPH
  • 2018: 86.7 MPH

The downward trend in pitch velocity is concerning, especially when you consider the persistent back issues that have plagued Kershaw in recent years. As the Astros learned with Carlos Correa, a persistent back injury can have negative repercussions on a player’s ability to perform. Teams should exercise restraint when it comes to paying players with troublesome back injures. In a way, it is impressive that Kershaw has continued to be such a dominant pitcher through the past few seasons. But the persistent back issues is a probable explanation behind his declining velocity.

To sign Kershaw, though, it would take a large financial commitment. In 2018, he made roughly $35.5 million, which included a signing bonus. If he doesn’t opt out, his 2019 salary is $34.5 million followed by $35.5 million in 2020. Kershaw would likely expect something similar in his next contract if he reaches the open market for multiple years. The highest paid player last season on the Astros was Justin Verlander, who made $20 million from the club this year and next. Remember that the Tigers are still paying Verlander $8 million per season as part of the trade agreement from August 31, 2017. And Houston does have room in the payroll to make a notable free agent acquisition if they so desire. However, it is rather doubtful that general manager Jeff Luhnow and the ownership group led by Jim Crane would feel comfortable handing out a contract for any length of time with a high annual salary that Kershaw would likely seek in free agency.

A lot of events have to transpire for the Astros to acquire Kershaw. Honestly, I just don’t expect him to leave the Dodgers even if he does opt out. But if the unexpected happens, it is definitely an intriguing possibility, albeit a highly unlikely, and risky, one.